Reflection

I am coming back to a place that feels somewhat more normal. Not entirely, but somewhat.

Yesterday, I learned something interesting. I learned some other interesting things today. One of the interesting things I came across was that children with disorganized attachment have a primary attachment style that corresponds to Bowlby’s. (Crittenden does not recognize disorganized attachment–instead arguing that disorganized attachment is the use of alternating strategies.) Disorganized behaviours may be seen only briefly, and outside of those moments the child uses organized and coherent attachment strategies. This makes sense to me, as The Girl seems frequently disorganized, but is the rest of the time anxious and preoccupied. C seems dismissive most of the time and has intrusions of great anxiety, but is only sometimes disorganized. The Boy is avoidant and only occasionally disorganized.

So I was watching a YouTube video on dismissive attachment and it mentioned that the problem with dismissive attachment is that social learning is impaired, because the dismissive person does not pay attention during stressful moments: they are trying to mentally escape them in order to cope. Later, it becomes impossible to take anything from that situation for use in other, similar stressful situations, because there isn’t enough data.

This really hit home for me. I miss out on a lot of things in life because I am avoiding reminders of pain, but it also felt explanatory in terms of repeating patterns. You cannot modify your behaviour with much subtlety if you aren’t gathering information about what works and what doesn’t in a robust way. The temptation, I suppose, is just to tackle those painful situations head-on instead of avoiding them, but this doesn’t actually lead to resolution.

The other thing I have been reflecting on is how some parents actually do express a lot of anger at their babies and young children. C’s uncle is very close to his youngest child who is around 2 or 3, I think. The child wants to be with him all the time, but hurts him. The uncle is unable to see that he also hurts the child–that he sometimes plays too rough, that instead of attempting to set boundaries around displaying aggression (“When you bite daddy, it hurts,””No hitting. Daddy doesn’t like when you hit him.”), he hides his revenge in painful play. They both feel affection and anger toward each other, and some of it comes from a lack of finesse–just not seeing that the play has become overstimulating and it’s time to be quieter and gentler. Some of it is more intentional, but stemming from this history of hurting the baby.

I don’t think I have ever seen this kind of painful interaction with a young child before. I imagined abuse to look like whaling on your kid.

These are the behaviours in a parent that have been linked to disorganization in babies.

As described by Lyons-Ruth and Jacobvitz
(2008), these behaviors include: “(a) negative-intrusive behavior
(e.g., mocking or teasing the infant); (b) role confusion (e.g.,
seeking reassurance from the infant); (c) withdrawal (e.g., silent
interaction with the infant); (d) affective communication errors
(e.g., eliciting approach from the infant, then withdrawing from
him or her); and (e) disorientation (e.g., unusual changes in intonation
when interacting with the infant).”

The other thing I read (in the same article) that was interesting to me was that disorganized children have been subdivided into three types: two of them controlling, and one of them not controlling.

Disorganized/controlling
strategies can involve one of two controlling types: (a)
punitive, where the child is hostile to the parent and seeks to
punish, challenge, or humiliate him or her; and (b) caregiving,
where the child takes on the role of the parent and engages in
soothing behaviors or takes charge of interactions, even to the
extent of subjugating his or her own desires.

The third type is not considered controlling and displays these characteristics:

manifestations of fear in the presence of
the parent, lack of consistent strategy for interacting with the
parent, confused behavior after conflict with the parent, behavior
that invades parental intimacy, difficulties in addressing the parent,
a negative self with possible self-injuring behaviors, markers for
dissociation, and preferences for strangers over attachment figures.

(Crittenden considers compulsive care-giving a dismissive strategy.)

I have other thoughts about this, but they are still not very coherent.

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Unhappiness

I am not really recovered from coming back from C’s village. Transitions can be hard for me. Losses can be hard. I am not particularly surprised that I don’t feel okay, but I am surprised maybe that it’s going on for so long. I can’t seem to return to a balanced place.

One thing that has been on my mind lately is how much being around other people destroys my enjoyment of life. I don’t know why this should be. It may be a misperception, but it seems to me that whenever I begin to enter into a calm place or I begin to feel some enjoyment of life, someone comes along and makes it impossible to continue to do it. This is not only children–who might be expected to push boundaries. It is also sometimes adults. My general experience of human beings is that I can expect continual conflict, and that being around people means a total loss of pleasure in life.

Yesterday, I was reading something particularly interesting and it was an online article, so Facebook was open mainly because I still have this habit of being available to C although she no longer turns to me in times of stress. So an acquaintance who runs the post office around here wanted me to tell my female friend to accept his friend request. He met her briefly, they exchanged pleasantries. I don’t think she probably much remembers him.

Well, I wasn’t going to do that. It’s up to her who she accepts and who she doesn’t, and I suspect he cheats on his wife. I said she is rarely online, which is true, and she may not have noticed his request. I suggested he may want to wait until she is less busy–she’s teaching in a reading program right now.

Then he asked how I contact her. I said by phone and messenger, but that we don’t have a lot of contact, which is also true. So he wanted her phone number. I suggested she might feel angry if I gave out her phone number. He said she shouldn’t. I said most people do feel angry if someone gives out their phone number without permission.

By this point I had completely lost my concentration on my reading and my mood as well. I had provided him with all of these opportunities to bow out of his request gracefully, but it was as if he couldn’t hear “no” until it came in this fairly direct way.

Why do people do this? The answer, I am sure, is that they don’t realize a polite refusal is nonetheless a refusal. Other people in their experience must acquiesce in order to maintain the politeness. But I find many people are like this. You set a boundary, and you have to keep setting it. Nothing changes, except you find them unpleasant to be around.

Some of this is also the kids, I know. They don’t know how to have relationships. They struggle with self-control. They haven’t matured developmentally enough to consider other people. It’s not their fault, but sometimes I feel such despair.

In the village, I went for a walk with the Girl. I couldn’t leave her out, but I sort of knew if the Girl is with me, this will be a joyless walk. She complained about how hot it was (then why did you come?). She commented in an alarmed way at some skin peeling off the ends of her fingers. Now, I don’t have any idea why this happens. It does happen, but I don’t know why or what to do about it. When it happens to me, time passes and it goes away. I just agreed with her: indeed, the skin on your fingers is peeling.

I find it hard to relate to her constant distress. I can’t really keep my attention on it. Country Xers seem capable of commenting on the heat several dozen times a day, but I can’t really maintain an interest in weather.

I know this has to do with how I cope with distress–just move on. No one can change the heat, so maybe we should o something pleasant which distracts us from it. (Of course, it’s also difficult for me to relate to, as it is considerably cooler here than Los Angeles in the summertime.)

Anyway, I wondered why the Girl didn’t realize that while she finds her anxiety fascinating, other people do not. If she wants to have people around, she needs to find some kind of common ground with them. But people don’t.

Village

C wanted to go back to her village, as I mentioned. So, on Sunday, we both went wandering through the town–in turns–looking for a taxi that would take us. It took a while. Not all of the drivers feel like going for long drives. A lot of short trips is more efficient than one long journey.

I expect very often to be pushed away and unless I feel strongly that closeness will benefit her, I tend to hold back–wondering, “Is this worth fighting for?” Because of that, I didn’t suggest going with her to drop her off–it’s only 2 hours away from here, and maybe less now, since they have paved the road.

The Girl brought up the idea though, so I asked C, and she agreed to it. The Boy has been wanting to visit The Village: he’s never been further than the place where they run to in the annual school race. The Girl hasn’t wanted to because someone told her there were witches there. I asked The Girl if she was willing to go. She said yes, so I told C we would all go together. The thing is the cost of going one-way is the same as round-trip, because the way is not that well traveled, and the driver risks returning empty anyway. It makes it no loss to me to go. She agreed to that too.

I located a taxi, bought a few things at the shop to take–not much, I am utterly broke now with sending kids all over the place, and will most likely need to borrow money to pay for school fees in August–but the idea here is that you have to take something. Then off we went, the four of us.

When we arrived there, her uncle who lives in Y-town, suggested we stay until Tuesday, when he would be driving back. We sent the taxi back and stayed.

I could say many things about our stay, but I have saved up the puzzling moments for consideration.

I wanted to help her to fold the blankets in the morning. Actually, I began to do it the way we do in the US, which is a 2-person activity. I had not realized exactly that in Country X, no one ever fold sheets or blankets together. Folding is a strictly one-person activity. I suppose this felt uncomfortable for her. I know the Country X way, but I just hadn’t noticed in Country X, it is the only way–not just the way you do things when no one is there to help.

She was really frustrated and angry about the whole thing. It’s hard to explain that–she didn’t react in an extreme way, but I knew she felt something intensely.

I began to fold a different blanket in the Country X way and that was also frustrating to her, so I left. I didn’t think much about what I was doing. I had a feeling of suffocation and left, but I wasn’t thinking about anything.

When she came out again, I could see her lower lip coming out. She was doing something at the tap–washing dishes or teeth or something. I can’t remember what it was, but the lip came out without her realizing it was doing that.

I don’t know what the lower lip out means. It’s not that I’ve never seen it before. It’s common enough in little ones, but I’ve never thought about it before. It’s possible that expression stands for remorse. I want that thing–whatever it is, a toy, another turn on the slide–and I know you don’t want me to want it. I’m sorry for wanting it.

I ought not to have left the room. I hadn’t thought about about leaving the room affecting her in any way, but it does, doesn’t it? It says if you don’t do things my way, I will leave you. I don’t know…maybe. Because, before leaving, I hugged her. I said, “You are very cute and I love you.” I don’t know why I said that. I am sure when she is frustrated, she does not feel cute. I do feel warmth for her when she is struggling though. Not because she is struggling, but I think something authentic comes through. I feel the same way when she is angry. It ought not to be like that, but I see her angry face and I think, “Oh, I know this angry person. She is magnificent.” This is true even when she is angry at me.

There were a few other strange moments, when intense feelings broke through in puzzling ways. She needed to take the gas cylinder to the shop. I thought we could all go together–she and The Boy managing the cylinder, and the two of us just walking. She was adamantly opposed to this idea and couldn’t or wouldn’t explain why. I felt trapped–why don’t I get to do anything fun? I went down past the toilet to the cow shed and looked at the cows for a minute. Then I went back. As I came closer, I began to hear their voices. The Boy was saying, “Madam is gone forever.” I hadn’t realized they would worry. I hadn’t gone far. But, obviously, they would.

I don’t know what suddenly flipped in my brain these two times: I think C was resorting to control, possibly for different reasons in both cases. I suspect there are rules in her mind for how to be safe that feel deadly to me to follow. We learn from our parents how to identify danger, and her parents have taught her how to be safe in confused ways.

I recall from reading about Crittenden’s attachment styles that preoccupied strategies involves thinking that has difficulties with cause and effect. A person with a very preoccupied thinking will remember danger, but become confused about what caused it. Something like it’s dangerous to leave the house can become the connection.

But what happens when someone tries to force you to follow rules that make no sense is that you feel angry–it all seems very unfair. I suspect it feels like domestic violence, in fact. In the past, I have been more accepting.

The last puzzling moment I can’t remember what preceded it, but I had walked around the corner of the toilet for some reason. We were all standing there, and I can’t remember the reason for that, and I went a bit on ahead of them and came back after a second. The look on C’s face was of shock and sadness.

I am not sure why I have such an effect on her.

 

 

 

 

Disorder

C is leaving in the morning. She was first going to spend around 2 weeks with me, then when she came, it was five days. Now three.

What was unexpected about this is that I cried. In fact, I could not stop crying. She told me her sister was not happy and crying for her, and I said if you go, then I will cry. You can’t make everyone happy. But I did not expect to cry in front of her or so much.

I went for a little walk to calm down, but then I began to think that if I were gone for a long time, The Girl would think I was angry. So I came back before I was really calmed down, and being in the house made it worse. I did not sob, but I also could not stop.

I had thoughts about this and after a while, I realized that none of them especially helped. They neither felt satisfyingly explanatory nor soothing. After that, I didn’t really try to think about anything. I just wondered how to stop. I had a coffee. I tried reading a book. I could not think of anything else to do.

I logged in to Facebook and realized that, although we were in the same house, C had been messaging me. She mostly wanted to tell me that The Boy and The Girl were with me, and there was no reason to cry so much. This sounds really invalidating when I write it down, but it didn’t feel that way when I read it. It felt she honestly did not understand herself as a unique person, who could not be replaced by other children, and as though people felt sad when they had a need not being met, which could be met by another person or in some other way.

I tried to talk to her about this, but I don’t think she understood. I realized if you don’t see yourself as someone more than an object, you can’t understand someone else seeing you as more than an object.

This didn’t explain why I cried, but it explained why The Boy and The Girl couldn’t fix it.

I still don’t know why I cried so much. I know I did not like it. I think it might happen again when she actually does leave.

I could see while she was here that she felt profound things–she had very young expressions quite often, babylike. I wonder if this happens because she remembers being hurt by someone else, or if I have actually hurt her, and she is afraid of my hurting her again. I don’t know what the babylike expression feels like to have or what emotion or state it expresses. It’s new to me. I have seen it in pictures, but not in person.

It’s now morning. I am still sad. We spent the evening retreated from each other. They were binge watching a soap opera—something I don’t normally allow, but I didn’t intervene or set boundaries mainly because I was tired. Someone was shot and dying and I had flashbacks of Nata dying and physically I could feel the screaming. I thought when someone dies violently like that, you don’t stand over them gently pleading. You scream. I think this is probably true even if you don’t know them that well. Maybe not everyone screams, but the process of death is so shocking to see that I think most people have intense reactions.

This has not really ever happened to me before. I suppose I must normally have the internal resources to make this stop, but last night I couldn’t.

So that was awful.

 

Distrust

C came this morning.

I was full of feelings I couldn’t really decipher, and I went in the kitchen to make breakfast and cried. Things went through my mind that made sense as possibly causal, but it also crossed my mind that perhaps it was like mornings or falling asleep. She came. I was reminded of sad things, because I felt sad about her coming.

She had a plan to spend the day with her friends. The way she talked about it, it sounded like she wanted to leave immediately and then go off with her friends the entire day. She said she would take The Boy with her, but not the girl, because the girl wanted to play football. I said the girl does not want to play football. I am forcing her to go. She was excited about it for 2 days, and then when it turned out to be a less than 100% thrilling, she didn’t want to go anymore. But I am insisting she stick with it.

The Girl has so few coping skills she feel as though she cannot tolerate any distress and her strategy is to exaggerate her emotions in hopes that someone else will relieve it. I suppose that’s why.

Anyway, it made C’s plan to take one child and not the other make no sense at all. It became impossible to discuss this with C. She just kept repeating that The Girl wanted to go to football. It was a puzzling conversation, and then C retreated.

I started to think yesterday that she feels real fear when she acts this way. When she is distressed about a reunion or departure, the fear at those times is not imaginary or played up. She might not be processing the fear, but it exists. Her brain really is flooded with hormones. I feel a very deep sadness about this.

When a child has been abused, the things that would normally comfort a child become potentially frightening. Vulnerability is this opening to vent rage on someone too helpless to retaliate or an opportunity to use the child’s need for proximity to exploit them. What comes out of this is a deep distrust: if I express vulnerable feelings, then someone will use that as an opportunity to hurt me. If someone wants me to be close to them, it’s because they want me to do something that feels good to them, but hurts me.

 

 

Exploitation

C is supposed to come today.

I felt happy about this and now I don’t. I try to maintain curiosity about what is going on in my mind, and to see it as a filter for reality. A different filter would make reality seem different. So I try to maintain this awareness that my mind exists. It is not directly reality entering my brain.

The reason I don’t feel happy is that I began to think she does not actually want to see me. She needs to use my laptop for a project she needs to do over vacation, which may actually be true. I began to mentally prepare myself to feel like an object and to feel exploited.

People who use dismissive strategies don’t find as much reward in relationships. They have their own agendas and find reward in activities and accomplishments, but not human beings. Human beings are either a means to an end or an impediment to their activities. The more pronounced the use of dismissive strategies, the more this will be true.

C alternates between dismissive and anxious strategies. It’s possible to do this. People who alternate between very extreme strategies are considered to be psychopathic, but ordinary people use low-numbered strategies and manage to get through life without robbing banks or murdering people.

It’s completely possible for C to see me as only a laptop provider, and not a full-fledged human being. It’s hurtful when people do this.

I once saw a therapist who told me about another client whose wife was very dramatic and expressed her feelings in frightening ways. He said as his client’s self-esteem improved, he was less upset by this, and would tell his wife he would come back later, when she was calmer.

I now think his wife used very anxious strategies to maintain the relationship: she exaggerated her emotions to maintain the attention of her partner. Her husband, in contrast, increased his use of dismissive strategies by ignoring her. The extreme nature of their use of protective strategies increased and became more entrenched rather than improved over time. But the husband lost awareness of his emotions, and forgot that having someone yell and throw things is upsetting and confusing. He was not safer or more supported, but he stopped complaining about it, and so our therapist saw it as success.

It’s not my goal to stop feeling hurt. Instead, it’s my goal to think in a way that allows for uncertainty and doubt and reflects more sources of information.

I think there was a point in my life when I dd not see minds existing as minds. There were distortions in my thinking and by this I don’t mean there were particular thoughts I tended to revert to: that’s possible, but it’s not what I mean.

I mean there may have been a point when I did not see minds as existing as minds: thoughts were reality, and so I could not tolerate thoughts, because to me they seemed real.

In other words, in the past I might have had the thought that I am only a laptop provider and then felt compelled to ensure I wasn’t one, because if someone has that thought about me, then that is who I am.

I have one particularly clear memory of an incident with my ex-wife–most experiences with her are not clear, but this one is. I often felt upset and did not know why or what had happened to lead up to this.  But this one I remember very vividly.

I recall helping her with a sewing project. She was making cat toys stuffed with catnip. She sewed the edges with the sewing machine, and I sewed up the little hole left in order to stuff them by hand. When I finished with this, she was somehow very dismissive about it, and I felt exploited. I tore out the stitches that I had made, because I never wanted to be anyone’s slave again. I would rather not have relationships at all than be exploited.

In therapy, there was no discussion of this. The therapist assumed my actions were meant to communicate with my partner and that I was behaving vindictively. It’s not that I didn’t try to get across what I thought and felt, but there was not sufficient space in what he believed to accommodate my experiences. He couldn’t grasp that I assumed my actions did not communicate to my partner. Whether they did or not, I don’t know, but I grew up in a world so unresponsive it was very easy for me to revert to a presumption that what I did would not matter one way or another to anyone other than myself. He assumed my behaviour was covertly aggressive, and I was being deceptive about this, because i did not want to acknowledge the aggressive nature of my actions. It did not cross his mind that I assumed she did not care. I did not expect any reaction to my tearing out the stitches and it seems to me, if I remember right, that I was correct in my expectation and there was not one. I lived in a world where I was my only audience and my actions communicated only to myself.

The confusion was about the nature of reality: I felt I could change a perception only by changing reality. I could change the feeling of being exploited only by undoing te exploitation.

Morning

G was planning to leave today by bus, but the bus was full. The driver wouldn’t take him. Someone said that there was an official car going there in the morning, but he didn’t know who. I called the principal, because the man works in her husband’s department and I thought she might know who is going. Well, she didn’t, but in the morning she called me around 5:15 in the morning and said she was driving part of the way there.

So he left. Then J woke up and began to play with the remote control car he had borrowed from his friend. The car worries me, because he usually breaks toys. They are cheaply made, something stops working, he takes it apart to try to discover the problem, and completely destroys it. I don’t know how hand’s on to be about this car. He has already begun to call it “my car.” Given his lack of object constancy, I don’t think he can remember his friend exists still, or what may happen to his friendship if he breaks the car.

I suspect he runs through friendships, being acquisitive this way. The last time I saw him with one particular friend, he persuaded him to give him some money and I have not seen them play together since. Maybe that’s coincidence or maybe it’s The Boy being that annoying kid who always wants something. It’s not that you can’t say no,  but you get tired of it and don’t want to be around him at all anymore.

Then The Girl’s father came to the house. She is not here, but he came and brought vegetables. He didn’t want anything–not tea or breakfast. Just brought vegetables and left. I am not at the moment feeding his daughter, so I don’t know why he brought them exactly.

It’s 7 am now. The most eventful morning I have had in a long time.